Committee of the Islands

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Florida's Conservation Amendment

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February 02, 2014

Florida's New Conservation Amendment : A Chance to Make a Difference By Larry Schopp , Board Member , Committee of the Islands Florida voters - 964,941 of them - recently put their signatures on petitions that will give Floridians the right to vote on a state constitutional amendment that will ensure a stable funding source for important water and land conservation initiatives throughout the state . Thanks to a successful petition drive , the measure known as the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment will appear on the ballot this November . Here's why this is such a critically important ballot measure : It's not just sunny skies and warm temperatures that make Florida so attractive to residents and visitors . Natural beauty , abundant wildlife and clean water for drinking and recreation are just as important . But those natural assets are not guaranteed to last forever . As Florida becomes more and more desirable as a retirement and vacation destination pressure to develop unspoiled areas increases , threatening the very resources that make the state so attractive . For years Florida governors and legislators understood the need for a balance between development and conservation and allocated funds for acquisition of environmentally sensitive lands to protect their natural beauty , habitat value for wildlife and water storage and filtration capabilities . There was widespread , bi - partisan support for programs like Florida Forever , which received funding from an existing real estate tax known as the " doc stamp . " That was then and this is now However , that was then and this is now . The current governor and legislature have , in recent years , slashed funding for Florida Forever by 97 % and diverted those funds to other uses . They went so far as to direct that no new lands could be acquired for conservation unless an equal amount of " surplus " state land was divested . For that reason several acres in Cayo Costa State Park ( the island just north of North Captiva ) were recently put up for sale by the state . That approach to conservation makes no sense . Alarmed at the recent turn of events in Tallahassee , a coalition of conservation groups organized to place a constitutional amendment on the November , 2014 ballot that would guarantee a stable source of funding for water and land conservation by allocating one third of existing " doc stamp " revenues through 2035 for those purposes . The legislature would not be able to divert those funds . In order for the amendment to pass , a 60 percent yes vote is required in November . The Water and Land Conservation amendment would generate about $ 10 billion for conservation over the next twenty years with no tax increase to voters . This amount is less than 1 percent of the Florida state budget . Sanibel and Captiva residents come through Here on Sanibel and Captiva , several groups including Committee of the Islands ( COTI ) , Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation ( SCCF ) and the Sanibel League of Women Voters participated in the petition drive with impressive results . Thanks to Richard Johnson at Bailey's and the folks at the Sanibel Farmers Market who let volunteers set up tables , we were able to collect hundreds of signatures from local residents - and some from visitors from other parts of Florida . Projects of local interest that stand to benefit are Everglades restoration and the flow - way to the south for Lake Okeechobee outflow waters , two critical projects that are in need of serious funding . If passed , the Water and Land Conservation amendment will put Florida back on the right track in protecting its rich natural beauty , wild places and clean water . It's up to Florida voters now . Come this November we'll all have a chance to make a difference . To read our past commentaries on island issues , visit www.coti.org . We invite your input on this and other issues affecting our islands . Send us an email at coti.org or visit Committee of the Islands on Facebook .

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